Sunday, May 17, 2020

Monarchy in Modern Greece by Costa M Stamatopoulos

The few books in English on the Greek monarchy do not tackle the true complexities of the monarchy and the royal family's history.  Greek historian Costas M. Stamatopoulos is the author of Monarchy in Modern Greece, published by Kapon Editions in 2017. I learned about the book a few months ago,

This book is in a word a masterpiece, a truly objective study of Greece's monarchial experiment that began with the election of Bavarian prince Otto as King Othon, the first modern Greek sovereign.   This first experiment failed, not a surprise, and Otto was forced to leave.  A new king, a Danish prince, Wilhelm, the youngest son of King Christian IX (although Wilhelm was actually a sovereign before his father succeeded to the Danish throne),  took the name George and reigned from 1863 until his assassination in 1912.

The history of George I and his family is filled with the intricacies of politics, right and left, personalities, international influence (Great Britain and then the United States), too many wars, and changing views of the Greek people.

The book is divided into three sections.  The first focuses on the history and ramifications of that history.  This section of the book is difficult to wade through as it was not written in chronological order, as the author weaves together the different thread that led to the final instability from the 1940s until the crisis of 1965.

Stamatopoulos' book was written originally in Greece and translated into English by Geoffrey Cox.  It is suffice to say that the monarchy would not survive.  There were too many variables that led to the political crises that brought down the monarchy.

The second part of the book offers portraits of George I, the best of all the Greek sovereigns, according to the author, with few exceptions, including failing to prepare and include his heir, King Constantine I, who is the subject of the second portrait.   Tino was proclaimed as a hero during the Balkan wars but he found himself between a rock and a hard place during the first world war.  The Allies, left by Great Britain, had their own interests with Greece, with Germany also knocking at Greece's door, for other reasons.  It was not easy for Constantine to weigh the precarious decisions he had to make,   It also did not help him that his brother-in-law was Kaiser Wilhelm II.   Tino's wife, Sophie, who had before the war embraced charitable work, did not hide her disdain for her sisters-in-law, Helen, and Alice, both of who were supporting the Greek cause.  

Sophie, whose mother was a British princess, had made it clear that she was pro-German.  This blew me away because earlier writers have tried to portray Sophie supporting the Allies, but Stampatopoulos provides conclusive evidence that Sophie was pro-German.    The Greek royal family was forced into exile in 1917, pariahs, with the exception of the second son, Alexander who succeeded to a throne.  When the young king became ill, only his grandmother, Queen Olga, was allowed to return but she arrived too late.  Alexander was dead, and the throne was empty.

The capriciousness of the situation -- of course, politics played a role -- led to Tino being recalled.  The author believes that Constantine should have abdicated in favor of his eldest son, as this would have prevented what followed.  Even before World War I erupted, Tino was firmly against war in Asia Minor, and now, nearly a decade later, he was trapped into a war that began before his restoration - and now he was unable to react.  Poor decisions and a fickle population, as well as political issues, led to Tino giving up his throne in favor of his son, George II.

The third portrait is of Queen Frederica, a princess of Hanover, a granddaughter of Wilhelm II, who married the future King Paul in 1937.  Stamatopoulos writes that Frederica "was adored as no other Queen before her had been -- until the moment when her popularity was snatched from beneath her feet like a carpet."

She was devoted to Greece, but she never fully understood the history nor learned the Greek language properly.   By the 1950s, the situation became precarious as Greece was caught between too many sides - in Greece and outside, namely the United States,   Frederica was passionate about her role, "her sacred function as a woman and as a queen," and she knew how to instill hope.

But there were too many rumors (only rumors) that were voiced in the press and salons.  Rumors that spread throughout the international press (and were believed although most of the rumors were not true.)   The monarchy was caught in the middle of changing political factions and it did not help the monarchy as the criticism was on all sides.

The emotions, the "path of the heart," the sacred functions of monarchy and the delicate relationship between the people and their sovereign, forms the third part of the book.   

Although the monarchy ended nearly 50 years ago,  "kingship continues to be treated in Greece as a taboo subject."

Monarchy in Greece is a prodigious achievement.  Yes, it can and will take time to read, to embrace all that Stamatopoulos offers in this mammoth and honest study of Greece's monarchy  This is true scholarship.

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